Bauhaus and Modernist Coal Mines
Over the next 3 weekends spamming between March and April, all the trips to Dusseldorf in Germany had the very same purpose: visiting the Ruhr Valley Industrial Area, landmark in the European Route of Industrial Heritage, right in coincidence with the celebrations of the “European Capital of Culture 2010: Essen and the Ruhr area”. In total we would visit 3 iconic places, symbols of a bygone industrial era where this coal-rich region was once one of the most important high quality steel producers in the world.
Even nowadays steel production still strong, of course using much modern techniques without the use of coal for heating and melting, the coal era died at the beginning of 1990 leaving dozens of coal mines and industries abandoned. In many cases, their remains have been erased forever with the regeneration of their former sites back to nature or new constructions; but in other “lucky” cases, the most important for their architecture and engineering have been preserved and are now great museums.
One of them, the largest of its kind in Europe was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its engineering achievement and its incredible design; the largest Bauhaus style building ever created: the Zeche Zollverein. Another, the Zeche Zollern, is in the other hand a masterpiece in the Art-Nouveu style. Equally beautiful.
Since the sites are small and only reduced to single sights, the coal mines itself, there is not much more information you need to know beforehand other than this brief introduction. A bit better explained is below in each of the sites listing, with their relevant photo album.
For further information about the Ruhr Valley check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Germany’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in the Ruhr Industrial Area
- Oberhausen Gasometer
Built in the 1920s was a large gas holder, nowadays a landmark in the European Route of Industrial Heritage and the Industrial Heritage Trail. Put off service after severe damaging during WWII in 1944, it re-entered service in 1950 until 1992 when it was decommissioned, being transformed into a museum and exhibition space in 1994.
- Zeche Zollverein
Not far from the city centre of Essen, several buildings compose the Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant. With it’s history dating back to 1837, most of the latest constructions were built between 1957 and 1961 and were active until 1993 when they closed. But among the whole complex, shaft number 12 stands out as a remarkable architectural piece. Built in 1932 in Bauhaus style, quickly became the landmark of the German heavy industry, with a centralised mining facility that was copied in other mining complexes across Germany.
Since 2001 it is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and no wonder why. It’s architecture is a wonder! The size and state of conservation incredible, like the way it’s been transformed to a museum, keeping every most of the original details, machinery and staff, it is like popping into a coal mine which just stopped working the day before. Frozen in time feels like if someone would pull the switch it would all start working again.
At the massive cooking plant, a viewing ferris-wheel was constructed to allow visitors to better understand the construction by having a view from a higher point, but just days after its launch it closed and remains as such, this was due to the UNESCO suggestion that it could loose such listing status should it remain open. Fair enough UNESCO tries to protect the integrity on the site, but honestly, in this case they really went too far for an addition which you would not even guess it was newly built as it fits perfectly in the site.
- Zeche Zollern
Located not far from Dortmund city centre and easily accessible by public transportation is this model coal mine built in 1904 entirely designed in Art-Nouveau style. Complete with housing accommodation for the workers and their families, school, medical centre and all the facilities of a small town, was one of the first coal mines fully designed for both purposes, the extraction of the mineral but also the enjoyment of the people working there. Beautiful and simple design of the buildings, nicely landscaped with gardens and trees.
Compared to Zollverein this is a much smaller mine but the state of conservation and how perfectly has been restored as a museum and exhibition galleries is perhaps even better than Zollverein. Even the train carriages have been preserved; cars, tracks and every sort of machinery is there remarkably intact if we consider that it shut down operations in 1966 although few years after was rewarded as Germany’s first technical building monument of international importance, becoming the headquarters of the Westphalian Industrial Museum.
The fastest way to reach the Ruhr industrial complexes are by all mean having a car. It will save you time and money than depending on commuter trains and trams. But in any case, you can definitely easily access those three locations via public transportation from any of the surrounding cities or even farther ones. This is, reaching Essen, Oberhausen and Dortmund from let’s say, Dusseldorf or Cologne is a rather short train ride.
The 3 cities where these complexes are located are all having a good selection of hotels to stay. Perhaps Oberhausen can be the trickiest one mainly due to the reduced size of the city itself, but in any case, who would want to spend the night here!. Nor in Essen, you should aim for the larger Dortmund or of course, Cologne or Dusseldorf. In any case, a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.